If you had only the eyes of a person to reveal who he or she really is, what would you see?
People fascinate me. Meeting people far beyond my realm of reference appeals to me. Travel allows me to step outside of my own comfy, gilded box, into the world of others. Navigating through a solitary, sometimes uncomfortable space, is what stirs my kettle of curiosity.
I was once asked, how can I travel to exotic locations, having very little knowledge of the local language and still communicate? My response is simple...just smile. My recipe for melting away cultural barriers is to smile first, then look at a person straight in the eye, and genuinely connect.
Whether it is a child on a mother's back, or an elegant elderly woman sitting on temple steps, I find the same quality in their eyes...their vital spark. Yes, the old cliche' is true: the eyes are portals of the soul. There is a vulnerability that resides only within a person's eyes that is undeniable. That is where a person's truth lies, not in the choice of clothes, the number of lines on their face, or dare I say, the color of their skin.
Each time I return home from a trip I promise myself, now and forever more, I will look beyond a person's external wrappings. I will look beyond their disappointment and fear, beyond their bravado and anger, and instead look deeply into their eyes, unmasking their radiant spirit.
It's a challenge at times to peel away the protective cloaks of others. However, if you are willing to strip the layers away, one by one, you will discover glistening gold in them there eyes.
Up for the challenge?
Live in color,
Every twelve years, during the year of the monkey, a twenty-five day Buddhist celebration is held at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, India. Over 8,000 pilgrims travel from as far away as Burma to hear the teachings of venerable Buddhist leaders.
These are the true followers of the Buddha, the peasants, the farmers, the indigent. These devotees came to Leh in droves. They included the hobbling elderly, infants attached to their mothers breasts, and novice monks, giddy with excitement.
Even though this was a huge gathering, there were no real provisions for the throngs of people. A make-shift open tent shielded them from the glaring sun and swirling dust, that was their only protection. Thousands made the grueling trek to finally rest upon the hardened earth, and camp under the stars to receive the teachings of Buddha.
As I humbly walked through the crowd, I saw whole families listening intently to the speakers. The elderly spinning prayer wheels, young mother's with babies swaddled in their arms, fathers keeping a watchful eye on toddlers, and teenagers, with no electronic devices, all attentive and respectful.
Twelve women with metal pots walked amongst the crowd doling out handfuls of cold rice to the hungry. The famished graciously received the rice with open, filthy palms. The offering was quickly devoured.
How is it possible that in a crowd of 8,000 people I could not hear a baby cry, nor one complaint about the lack of seating, lack of refreshments, or wi-fi? What does that say about their culture? What does that say about ours?
I believe the 8,000 attendees understood the Buddha's teachings, for they exemplified tolerance, contentment and compassion, the core values of Buddhism. These were the true followers of Buddha. They did not need golden statues, silk meditation cushions, exotic incense or candles, they had their faith, and that alone made them rich.
There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness."
Live in color,
Life without reference points; that is what India is.
The comparison between my favorite children's classic, Alice in Wonderland and India is undeniable. Alice fell down the rabbit hole where her perspective was immediately altered. Stepping off the plane at the New Delhi airport did not feel much different.
In India, like Wonderland, colors are more vivid, sounds are amplified, and smells are intoxicating. The term sensory overload only touches upon your experience.
To truly grasp what India offers you must, like Alice, be curious and fearless. You need to leave your metropolitan vanities behind and be ready for an adventure of a lifetime. To savor its richness you must abandon your need for order, cleanliness and sanity. It is only then that you may begin to make sense of the madness.
New Delhi has a youthful energy. Walking the streets you are reminded of a society that was once slow to embrace technology. Each street has a hanging maze of electrical wires that resemble a ball of yarn after a cat has had his way with it. But a glance down any sketchy alleyway and you find trendy shops, and big-deal cocktail dens that put Brooklyn hipster mixologists to shame. The convergence of the old and new is off-putting, and fascinating.
Then there is the traffic. Traffic lights, blinkers, and double white lines only seem to be suggestions. The traffic is nothing more than a free-for-all, yet driving in the mayhem for two weeks, I did not witness a single accident.
Just as Alice had experienced people, places, and things she never saw before, she endured because she remained open to the adventure, and became curiouser and curiouser.
Traveling out of Delhi, into the mystical mountains of the Himalaya's presented yet another Wonderland. The first obstacle that you confront is the altitude, soaring to 10,000+ feet. Even the seasoned traveler's pace grinds to a halt. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and sleepiness consume you. The only prescription, rest. When your strength returns, it is then time to navigate the steep and craggy streets.
The Himalayas are the last stronghold of the Tibetan culture. Buddhism is pervasive. It is no mystery why this rugged region was chosen by the Dali Lama as the hillside home of the Tibetan government in exile. Beyond the isolation and the terrain, the altitude forces you to slow down to a snail's pace. Walking at such an extreme altitude is no longer about getting from point A to B. Walking becomes an unhurried, intentional meditation.
This slower pace reveals a cast of characters similar to the ones Alice found in her Wonderland. I encountered monks draped in crimson robes, nuns with freshly shaven heads, grinning Indian shopkeepers, dazed travelers lost in their phantasmagorical trip, Sikh's balancing orange turbans on their heads, and me, a curious blonde, trying to make sense of it all.
It was then Alice's Wonderland and my India, merged. Both were enchanted quests where the characters were eccentric, the conventionality of life gave way to the bizarre, and the usual and predictable took a back seat to the improbable.
Alice returned home from her adventure a changed person, as did I, and curiously we shared the same lessons.
Life doesn't always make sense.
To fully embrace the time we are given, you must remain curious, retain a sense of humor, and do not take yourself, or life too seriously.
Don't cling to the past, welcome change, and look forward to the best version of yourself, which is continually unfolding.
India is a wild and unpredictable land, where the extremes of life are embraced. For me, living without reference points, for my two week adventure was exhilarating and intoxicating.
If Alice taught us anything it is, one need not jump on a plane to an exotic location to find a wild adventure, one needs only to remain curious and fearless, for that is where you will find your wonderland.
Live in color,
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